Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not Merely Speculation

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 12, 2009

Year B: The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
Mark 16:1-8

Not Merely Speculation

Even if we weren’t churchgoers the supermarket would remind us that it’s Easter. We would see the overflowing shelves of candy and those little pink and yellow marshmallow chicks. And there are also palm crosses and lilies for sale.

And when we check out of the supermarket we would probably see newsmagazines devoting their covers to stories that speculate about Jesus or some of the other figures from the New Testament. They often have headlines like “Who was the real Mary Magdalene?” or “The Search for the Historical Jesus.” And sometimes these articles speculate about the really big question, the question that cuts right to the heart of our Easter faith – “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?”

I never read those magazines, although I admit I do skim them sometimes when if the line at Shop Rite is a little long.

I also never really watch the so-called documentaries on channels such as The History Channel or the Biography Channel that speculate about the same questions and claim to offer answers, and even proof one way or the other.

And, of course, you can find the same kind of questions being asked and “answers” and even “proof” being given on the Internet, too. The other day I visited one of the news sites I look at frequently and stumbled across an article called “10 Reasons the Resurrection Really Happened.”

I guess the headline piqued my curiosity so I went ahead and read the whole article. It turns out that the ten reasons offered by the author all hinge on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.

You’re probably familiar with this famous piece of cloth that bears the image of a crucified man. Scientists and scholars have offered all sorts of explanations for the shroud, ranging from elaborate hoax to physical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.

Since the article I read is called “10 Reasons the Resurrection Really Happened” obviously the author doesn’t think the shroud is a hoax.

I’ll spare you all ten reasons offered by the author, but here are two: First he writes, “Had the image been painted on the cloth by a forger, the paint traces of the pigment would have remained on the surface. The color here penetrates the cloth evenly from one side to another. Note: In this, it is more like a scorch.”

And second, “Speculation: the scorch might have been made by radioactivity attendant upon the resurrection. Whether or not it is pertinent, the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe produced measurable radiation that determines that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. If the scorch on the shroud is the result of radiation, it could have been radiation that reconstituted the dead body. But that is merely speculation.”

Yes, I think we can all agree that that is “merely speculation.”

Now, if you’re looking for reasons to prove the resurrection of Jesus really happened, at first glance it would seem the Gospel of Mark doesn’t offer much help. What we just heard this morning is what most scholars believe is the original ending of the Gospel of Mark, probably the earliest of the four gospels. And that original ending is quite open-ended, isn’t it?

The women go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They find the large stone rolled away. Inside the tomb they find a young man dressed in a white robe who tells them Jesus has been raised and has gone ahead to Galilee. And the gospel ends, “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.”

And at first glance it would seem that Mark’s gospel gives us the least amount of proof of all. There are no stories of Jesus appearing to the apostles, showing his wounds to Thomas, appearing on the road to Emmaus. Nothing like that.

Mark ends with “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
You can see why apparently a little later on, some Christians thought it was necessary to add a little more to this gospel, kind of summarizing the post-resurrection appearances found in the other gospels.

But, with his open-ended ending Mark offers us profound proof of the Resurrection.

And, if you want that proof, just look around you.

Everyone sitting here is a living reason why the resurrection really happened.

Everyone sitting here and all Christians around the world are living proof of the transformation that occurs when people encounter the risen Christ.

Mark doesn’t tell us how it happened, but those frightened women fleeing the tomb and those frightened apostles who had gone off into hiding when Jesus was arrested, were transformed into bold women and men who proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peter who had denied Jesus three times in his greatest hour of need is transformed and proclaims the Gospel, gives up his life for the Gospel.

Paul the Pharisee who never met Jesus during his earthly lifetime, Paul who persecuted the first followers of Jesus is transformed into a man who spends his life tirelessly traveling around the Mediterranean world, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And even if we don’t know all the details, we know that the Jesus movement – the early Church – survived the extreme trauma of Jesus’ death – the church survived the deep shame of Jesus dying on a cross.

And the church survived because Jesus’ first followers were transformed by their encounter with the resurrected Jesus.

And that’s not merely speculation.

In his gospel, Mark doesn’t have to spell that out because he is writing around the year 70, a couple of generations after the earthly lifetime of Jesus. Mark doesn’t have to spell it out because that audience, that community, would have been well aware that the story didn’t end with a handful of frightened women running from the tomb in terror and amazement.

Those first readers and hearers of the Gospel of Mark, a couple of generations after the earthly lifetime of Jesus would have known the story of transformation because they were the living result, the living proof, of that transformation.

It’s not merely speculation that you and I are here this morning at Grace Church, two thousand years later, because of the transformation that took place so long ago when the first disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus.

And it’s not merely speculation that you and I here this morning at Grace Church, are also here because of the transformation that has occurred in our own lives when we encounter the resurrected Jesus.

We may have our own personal stories of encounter and transformation, but we all share the experience of encountering the resurrected Jesus in the water of baptism and especially in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

Yesterday morning a handful of us were present for the Holy Saturday service. There is no communion at that service. In fact, on Good Friday the day before we had administered all of the consecrated bread and wine, since the Eucharist would not be celebrated again until the Easter Vigil last night.

It’s not merely speculation that part of the power of the stark and simple Holy Saturday service is that we experience Jesus’ absence – echoing what the first disciples must have experienced the day after Jesus’ death.

And seeing your faces and your hands week after week as you come to receive Communion I know it’s not merely speculation that in some mysterious and inexplicable way we experience the resurrected Jesus right here in bread and wine.

So Mark gives us an open-ended conclusion to his gospel. He doesn’t spell out the story of transformation when the first disciples encountered the risen Jesus.

Mark doesn’t have to spell out that transformation because you and I and Christians all around the world are the living result of that transformation. And you and I and Christians all around the world continue to be transformed by our encounters with the risen Christ.

And that’s not merely speculation.

Happy Easter.