Sermon for Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

Watch here (TLC Worship Service 04/04/2021)

Alleluia!  Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

The Family Circus is a syndicated comic strip that has been in continuous production since it debuted over 60 years ago on February 29, 1960. When original producer Bill Keane died in 2011 it was taken over by his son Jeff Keane. The Family Circus appears in 1,500 newspapers worldwide and compilations have sold over 13 million copies.

One of features of the The Family Circus is the dotted line.

The dotted line, traces the path little Billy or little Jeffy have taken through their day, or even through their dreams. If you’ve seen the dotted line, you know it’s not a straight line. The dotted line meanders, circles back, wanders, loops around/over/under/through all sorts of things in the neighborhood or adventures in their dreams.

In one strip, a dotted line traces Billy’s path home from the bus stop. Though the bust stop was just half a mile from the house, Billy’s path took him to another child, then to a swing set, then to a man fixing his car, then into a neighbor’s house, then to an ice cream truck, then around a tree, then around a mailman, then to pet a kitten. Finally, his path delivers him to his doorstep where his worried mother asks where he’s been, to which he nonchalantly answers: “Just walkin’ home from the bus stop.”

That dotted line came to mind in response to today’s scripture readings.

Our readings today from Acts, 1 Corinthians, and the Gospel of Mark all tell stories of where the resurrected Jesus appeared. In their unique ways, and to their specific audiences, they present their own version of the dotted line of the resurrected Christ.

Our First Reading this morning, from Acts 10:34-43, has it direct, but kind of vague. Acts records Peter saying that the resurrected Jesus did “not appear to all people, but appeared to those where chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

The reading from 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, more closely resembles the meandering dotted line in The Family Circus. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote that after Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures: he then appeared to Peter …  then to the twelve … then to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time … then to James, then to all the apostles … last of all, he appeared to me.”  (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). In 1 Corinthians, the resurrected Jesus got around!

Where is the dotted line in Mark’s account?

Who does the risen Jesus appear to in Mark 16:1-8?

It’s actually a trick question … it’s a trick question because the resurrected Jesus doesn’t appear in the earliest known manuscripts of Mark’s gospel. In the original ending of Mark, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome who faithfully went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, did not find Jesus. Instead they found a man sitting in the empty tomb. Was that man Jesus, was it a case of a mistaken identity?   If it was Jesus, then Jesus would have lied to the women, because Mark records the man as saying: “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.”  (Mark 16:6) 

The man was not Jesus, but the man told the women where Jesus could be found: “Go,” he told the women, “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”  (Mark 16:7).  There is no dotted line in Mark of where had been; instead, in Mark is the promise of where Jesus will be: the resurrected Jesus will be going ahead of them to Galilee.  In Mark, we’re left in the middle of the story, not looking backward, not even celebrating the present, but looking ahead to where Jesus will be found.

Some find this ending of Mark troubling and puzzling.

No appearance of Jesus. And actually, no evangelizing either.  The woman, afraid and seized in terror and amazement, went and told no one. Because this ending is so unsatisfying, later writers added on verses 9-19, the rest of the Gospel of Mark that you will find in your bible today –  these verses described by one scholar as: “mixed motifs from the other gospels.” It’s in only in these later additions to Mark’s gospel does Jesus appear.

I think it’s important to stop where Mark originally stopped, because I think the  original ending of Mark’s gospel is much more relatable.  If we’re being honest, doesn’t Mark’s original account more closely resemble our experience of Easter today? We come to church on Easter Sunday, and we experience the risen Christ not in bodily form of the resuscitated body of Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago, but in the announcement that Jesus is risen and that we meet the risen Christ through faith.

The women in Mark’s gospel were invited into faith to believe it was so. They were invited to believe the testimony of the man sitting in the empty tomb. They were invited to trust that, even though they didn’t see the resurrected body of their friend and teacher, Jesus was risen and was going ahead of them to Galilee where they would meet him.

And so it is with us today, on this Easter Sunday.

In the announcement in the scriptures, liturgy, and hymns that Jesus is risen, we are invited to faith to believe it is so. And we are invited to experience the risen Christ as we go forth from this place to our own Galilees. 

In Jesus going ahead of them to Galilee, Lutheran theologian Erik Heen, sees the dotted line of the resurrected Jesus going ahead of us, right back to all the places we’ve come from this morning. In resurrection faith, we are invited to believe that in the resurrection of Christ “the everyday world we inhabit has been transformed by means of our encounter with the word about the crucified and risen Lord.” [End quote].  The Easter message, received by faith today, is that the risen Christ calls us into the possibilities of the old becoming new, the familiar becoming surprising, and places of death becoming places of new life. 

In Jesus going ahead of them to Galilee, Lutheran theologian Gordon Lathrop, sees the dotted line of the resurrected Christ leading us back into the central stories of our faith. Lathrop writes: “readers of this puzzling ending to Mark’s gospel are thereby being sent back into the Gospel book itself where, with Jesus’ coming into Galilee in the first chapter of Mark (1:14), they learn to see the risen Crucified One in the very stories of the book, in the assemblies of those who gather in Jesus’ name around this book, and in the little and marginalized ones who are received by those assemblies.” The Easter message received by faith today, is that the risen Christ meets us in the community that gathers around Word and Sacrament – that Christ goes before us in the Word, bath, and meal.

In these ways, we are invited to follow the dotted line of the resurrected Jesus’s path and meet him as he goes before us.  To meet the risen Christ alive in this community of faith, and to meet the risen Christ back home where we’ve come from … to  meet Jesus who lives, and who keeps going before us with the invitation to join him in new life and new beginnings.  

The full and complete Good News we celebrate on this Easter Sunday is the path Jesus took for our salvation. 

That path took Jesus to the cross.  On the cross, the crucified Christ announced the promise in the form of the crucified Christ, God is with us precisely in our suffering, pain, and death. 

Today, in the word spoken from the empty tomb, that path goes before us to Galilee.  In the empty tomb, the messenger announced the promise that Christ goes before us into new life.  

Comforted by a crucified Christ with us in our pain, and inspired by a resurrected Christ who goes before us into new life, we are invited to faith today. In faith, we are invited to meet Christ alive and going before us into a post-pandemic, post-racial, post-death world. We are invited to return again and again, back into this community, to meet the risen Christ alive today calling us into new beginnings, even if those beginnings are in old, familiar places, and even if those beginnings are in death.

Alive in these ways in the good news of the risen Christ, and hand-in-hand with our savior, may we create our own dotted lines!

In the boldness of faith, as the resurrected Christ lives in us, may way we loop, meander, circle back, and go here and there, and anywhere Christ calls us into love of neighbor and love of the world.

In all that we say and do, and wherever the path takes us, may we proclaim the good news:  Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  

Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!