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Easter Day--April 23, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: 1 Corinthians 5: 6-8 and Mark 16: 1-8 
"And he sayeth unto them: 'Be not affrighted: You seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.'"  

My friends, as we contemplate the wonderful reality of the Lord's resurrection, it is good for us that this day we would choose the alternate reading from St. Mark's Gospel, his description of the resurrection of the Lord. And there is so much in this narrative that it can almost escape us. 

The facts are rather simple. The women came to the tomb very early in the morning on the first day of the week to anoint the body of Jesus. The sun had already risen. They wondered about that big round stone in front of the tomb. And they found it already rolled back. When they looked in there was a young man clothed in white seated at the right side, the position of honor. The young man announced to them, "You're seeking Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen." They were to go from that place to tell the disciples - and Peter - what had happened. They failed in their mission miserably. "They went out quickly," Mark says, "and fled from the sepulcher, for they trembled and were amazed. Neither said they anything to anyone for they were afraid." Why did Mark write this? These are the same women who stood near the cross of Jesus and viewed everything from a distance. From a distance! 

At that point the level of their faith was such that they really did not want to get involved. They could have reported what they saw, but that was all. They did not come to believe what was happening: that the Son of God was suffering and dying on a cross before their eyes. They weren't ready to accept that. They saw it all from a distance, says St. Mark, because they weren't involved. Did you notice that it was Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who took the body of Jesus and placed it in the tomb? The women were not there either. Why? What happened to them? Again, Mark tells us, they were not involved at this point. Their faith was not such that they would become involved. 

Even on the first Sunday morning as they came to the tomb to do what they finally were called upon to do, to anoint the body, as they began to be involved, it was all upside down for them. It was all so unexpected. That huge stone was rolled away. And then they were given the good news, "You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here. He has been raised." They heard the news. They got the facts. And with the facts, they did nothing. For they were still afraid. What was it that Mark was trying to teach those people in His Gospel? The clue is what the young man said to the women at the beginning, "You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified." It was necessary for them first to accept and embrace the crucifixion to be true disciples of the Lord, to understand that he has been raised. They could be spectators no longer. They had to be participants in the very suffering and dying of the Lord. "If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow in my footsteps" (Matt. 16:24). The cross and the resurrection are intertwined and they must be understood in that way. 

Eventually we know that their faith did blossom. They began to believe. The disciples encountered the risen Lord Jesus, as he had told them, in Galilee. He would go before them into Galilee; there they would see him and there he brought that scattered community of disciples together once again and commissioned them to go forth into the whole world and preach the good news that sin and death will no longer hold this world in bondage. They believed. They did as he commanded. 

St. Mark, as he wrote his Gospel, understood that the Church was undergoing persecution. The Church was being battered from one end to the other as he wrote his Gospel and it was necessary for Mark to teach the people that cross and resurrection are inextricably linked. And that's the way he did it: describing the women at Calvary who were standing at a distance, the women who didn't understand and were afraid on the first Easter Sunday. But it was all right. Even the disciples were afraid. They hid themselves for fear of the Jews. They had all scattered. Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus. What consolation that would be to a Church undergoing persecution in that first century. 

What consolation it should be as well to us in our time. We may know all of the facts about Jesus' passion and death and resurrection. We can view them as the women did - at a distance. And yet they are not a dynamic part of our lives. They do not touch us to the foundations of our souls. We are not a people of deep faith, as those first century Christians were not. What Mark wants to give to us this morning, is to say, "It's all right. Jesus can deal with you." The risen Lord can touch you and kindle the embers of your faith into a bright flame. He did it for the disciples who abandoned him and were afraid. He can do it for each and every one of us as well. You and I are called upon to recognize the risen Lord. 

This is something that happened not two thousand years ago, but continues to happen. We are people of the resurrection. 

"If you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. . .You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory" (Col.3:1-4). 
You have begun that resurrection life already in the sacrament of Baptism. 

How do we recognize the risen Lord? The Scriptures are interesting here as well. Mary Magdalene didn't recognize him when he was standing right in front of her until he spoke her name, "Mary." Then she tried to embrace his feet (John 20:llff.). 
The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn't recognize Jesus risen, as he walked along with them and explained to them all of the things that happened in Jerusalem those previous days. Cleophas and the other disciple (who I like to think was Mrs. Cleophas) didn't recognize him until they invited him into their home and he sat down with them at table, and took bread and broke it and gave it to them. They recognized him, says St. Luke, in the "breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:35). 

That anti-Christian persecutor, Saul, didn't recognize the risen Lord either. until he was knocked off his high horse. "Who are you. Lord?" "I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5). It was the presence of the risen Lord appearing to Saul that transformed, converted him, that made him St. Paul. 

Down through the ages, it's been the same. How do we recognize the risen Lord? St. Augustine, sitting in a Milanese garden, heard a child's sing-song voice saying, "Take and read, take and read, take and read." He picked up Paul's letter to the Romans and read about how he needed to be converted and to abandon his former life. And Augustine became a great saint of the Church. 

How do we recognize the risen Lord in our midst? In the child's voice, in the breaking of the bread, in a whispered prayer. There is a story about a young man chased by soldiers into a village and he hid among the villagers The soldiers searched house to house looking for him. They finally announced to the village that if he was not turned over to them by morning, every man in the village would be shot. They went to the minister and said, "What are we going to do?" And the minister said, "I don't know. Let me think about that." He went into his study, and he took up his Scripture, and he began to read, looking for an answer. Finally, toward morning, he found an answer in the Scripture. "It is better for one man to die than for the whole people to suffer." He went out and he pointed out the hiding place of the young man. The soldiers came and took him to the edge of the village and killed him. The people of the village rejoiced because they had been spared. But the minister could not rejoice because he was troubled. That night an angel appeared to the minister in a dream and asked him. "What have you done?" And he said, "I turned over that man to my enemy." "Why did you do this?" "Because the word said so." "But why? You have betrayed your Messiah." And the minister said, "How was I to know?" And the angel said, "If you would have put down your Bible and gone and looked into the eyes of that young man, you would have known. If you would have looked into his eyes you would have seen the Lord." 

Understand that you and I encounter the risen Lord, Messiah, in many ways. He is with us in our midst. Recognize him in this Eucharist, in the breaking of the bread. Recognize him in his word in the Sacred Scripture as he speaks to us. And recognize him in one another because here he dwells in the midst of his Church. This is what we celebrate. 

The Lord is indeed risen as he has said. You seek Jesus who is crucified. He is risen. Today, Easter Sunday is so much more than a commemoration of a past event. It is a celebration of an event that is happening in our midst now. Look around you and see. The Lord is truly risen. He is risen indeed. He is with us all days until the end of the world! 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.