Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
April 16, 2006
RESURRECTION AND SALVATION
Text: Mark 16: 1-8
On Easter preaching is easy,
because Easter is all God’s work. My work’s dead in a tomb. Easter
is as free and complete an act of grace as the coming of Spring. We
do not cause the trees to bloom. We do not bring Easter on, not by
our actions, not by our faith. As Rowan Williams, Archbishop of
Jesus is not raised by our
but by God’s prior act.1
If Easter is a group of people
ratcheting up enough faith to conjure up a dead Jesus and make him
alive to them, let’s go home and do something useful. But on Easter,
Jesus comes with garlands.
Jesus returned to his disciples who had largely betrayed, denied and
deserted him, came in utter grace to forgive them, and to call them
anew, and to start in them a resurrection community.
Perhaps the women disciples
were the most faithful, the ones who were at the cross, the ones who
came with spices to anoint his body in the tomb. They could not have
been prepared for what happened, even with Jesus’ earlier elusive
words about rising on the third day. Wherever he was going after
death, if going anywhere, it would be beyond their sight, beyond
Today we’ve heard the witness
of Mark’s gospel: Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother James, and Salome
coming to anoint his body. The sun had just risen. When they
arrived, the stone had been rolled from the door of the tomb and a
young man was sitting by in white robe. Was the robe really that
bright, or was it the shining of the sun?
“Do not be afraid,” he
You seek Jesus of Nazareth who
was crucified. He has risen. He is
not here. See the place where
they laid him.
Then the angel gave them their Easter commission:
Go tell disciples and Peter
that he is going before you to
Galilee; there you will see him....
Then here at verse eight
Mark’s gospel suddenly ends, at least it is where the earliest
Going out quickly they
fled from the
tomb. Trembling and wild astonishment
overcame them. And no one said
anything to anyone, for they were afraid.
The last two words: The verb,
“they were afraid” and the ending preposition “for.”
What a way to end a gospel! Some scholars think that was how Mark
intended to end it, throwing us the ball, so to speak, and saying,
Now you end it, you finish it with your life and faith. Others say
that the manuscript was broken off at verse eight. Often it was the
end of the scroll that was broken off, the part most exposed to
handling and the elements.
Later verses 9-20 were added, a Reader’s Digest condensed synopsis
of other Easter traditions. In those verses you read that the
disciples would cast out demons, handle snakes and speak in tongues.
Maybe these verses were broken off on purpose! That’s more religion
than we can stand, or want!
Here’s a verse I like in that group: The Risen Christ saying: “Go
into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation”
(verse 15). I’m going to preach that one next week. And this one:
“And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with
them” (verse 20). Well, they made it to Charlotte! Even to the
choir. And to row five.
What we have in the four
gospels’ Easter accounts is Jesus appearing to the women as they
headed to tell the disciples about the empty tomb. So when they got
to the disciples it was not just an empty tomb they reported, but a
What we have in the gospels is the risen Jesus appearing to
disciples and to other followers over a period of forty days.
Appearing in a body strangely different and strangely the same.
Then, as mysteriously as he appeared to them, he left them.
What we do not have is a witness to the actual raising of Jesus from
the dead, a sighting of the resurrection itself. We need Steven
Spielberg or Cecil B. DeMille for that. Movie directors and
novelists and preachers love to fill in the special effects.
But the realm of the Spirit is not the realm of special effects. It
is a more elusive realm, the realm of personal “meeting”, of
relationship, a realm of belief and disbelief, of hope and longing
and joy and incredulity, a realm as provable and unprovable as love.
Resurrection means salvation,
a salvation as close as your heart and as large as the whole
universe. There is no place the love of God cannot go. What is the
shape of the salvation of God in Christ? I have asked. It is summed
up in the word “reconciliation.” Oneness with God, with one another,
with life itself.
It begins in forgiveness. Jesus appears with wounds. We meet him
with ours’. As Williams says:
The gospel will never tell
us we are innocent,
but it will tell us we are loved.
Grace will remake but not undo.
There is all the difference in the world
between Christ uncrucified and Christ risen.2
And now because of Easter we
can be a resurrection community, an atonement community, a
Here’s a story Frye Gailliard told me. John Lewis the congressman
from Georgia was one of the extraordinary young leaders in the Civil
Rights movement. In the first Selma to Montgomery march he was
savagely beaten, his skull cracked open. The troops who beat him
were on orders of Governor George Wallace.
Years later, Governor Wallace now in a wheelchair, paralyzed by an
assassin’s bullet called and asked John Lewis to visit him. Lewis
went. Wallace said, “John I need your forgiveness. Can you find it
in your heart to forgive me? John said, Yes, Governor, I forgive
you.” Then Wallace asked, Do you think God has it in his heart to
forgive me?” Lewis replied, “I’m even more certain of that.”
Even more certain of that because Lewis had met the Risen One.
The Resurrection also sends us into the world with an indomitable
We lost one of the great figures of American Christianity this week,
William Sloan Coffin. It’s his benediction I have adapted and use of
the end of many services.
A friend of his tells about a night they spent in jail arrested
during a Civil Rights march. Coffin was in the cell next to his.
Suddenly he heard Bill’s sturdy baritone voice singing: “For the
Lord God omnipotence reigneth.” The Hallelujah Chorus, there in the
middle of the night locked up behind bars. That’s where the
Hallelujah Chorus belongs - - and when it begins - - where things
are most improbable.
“Practice resurrection” says
Wendell Berry. So Coffin sings in jail. I see you singing your
hallelujah chorus as you lay in hopeful beds, not giving up,
trusting in the power and love of God. I see you singing it as you
try one more time for justice and equity in this grand and unequal
I see it when life has handed you its worst and you come back with
your best. “For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Practice
Near the end of his life William Sloane Coffin, one of the most
eloquent men I’ve ever heard suffered a stroke and had slurred
speech. Some would have given up. He kipt on speaking, preaching,
acting. He’d joke about his impaired speech as he spoke, quoting
Mark Twain’s words about the music of Wagner: “It’s better than it
sounds!” he’d say.
Later in life he reflected on the world to come. He remembered his
uncle Henry Sloane Coffin’s words of caution about two much talk of
heaven. “One world at a time,” Uncle Henry would say. Then Coffin
As long as you know who’s
you don’t have to know what’s
there. Our lives go from
God in God to God. Hallelujah.
The Apostle Paul says we now
live by a power beyond ourselves, the power of the risen Jesus
living in us. We put on his clothes as our finest Easter clothes.
And what are these clothes? We see them described in the Colossians
text. This text is a great Easter text, a great wedding text, a
great church text. It is the Easter covenant we make as churches, as
husband and wife, as friends, as a community of the resurrection.
Put on compassion, Paul says. You look good in compassion! Always
look good. And kindness. The Dali Lama, touched by Easter light
says: “My religion is kindness.” And humility, as one who washes
feet. And meekness which is not weakness but the refusal to strut.
And patience. Anybody here need patience? Paul goes on: “Bear with
one another, forgiving one another. As the Lord has forgiven you, so
you must also forgive.”
“And above all put on love, which binds everything together in
perfect harmony,” he says.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Rule there, not
just hang around the edges.
And be thankful. Period. And be thankful.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Start with his Easter
words: Be not afraid. It is I. Peace be to you.
Then Paul says, because we never fully arrive: “Teach and admonish
one another.” We pledge to guide and correct one another because all
by ourself we can be pretty dumb and pretty selfish.
“And sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs!” And if you can’t
sing, stomp your feet, raise your hands, ring your bells. Smile.
Laugh. Laughter comes eastering in us. There’s an old Lutheran
tradition that the preacher on Easter begins with a joke. When we
see that the good shall finally win, we can laugh.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed do in the name of the Lord
Frederick Buechner tells of a Christmas pageant in an Episcopal
minister friend’s church. Everybody learned their parts and put on
their costumes. The front of the church was packed with Mary and
Joseph, the baby, wise men, angels, shepherds, donkeys and sheep. It
was so packed that a little girl angel was jostled to the far edge
of the stage so she could no longer see the baby Jesus, who above
all was the one she was interested in seeing. Suddenly, she wailed
out in the silence for all to hear, wailed out in frustration and
desire: “Let Jesus show!”
The church does a good job hiding Jesus. Has for 2,000 years. Does
10 today. Let Jesus show. Let him show. Let the Christ who lives in
each of us show!
I love this day so. It is in my blood. The flowers, the alleluias,
the pretty clothes, the bells. And before we started, God was
already here. As Rowan Williams says,
...however early we run to
God has been there ahead of us.3
The 17th century mystical poet George Herbert says in his Easter
I got me flowers to show the way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou went up by break of day
And brought thy sweets along with thee.4
Sweet light. Sweet day. Sweet
chocolate. Sweet flowers. Sweet forgiveness. Sweet hope. New life.
1 Rowan Williams, Resurrection (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse
Publishing, 1982), p. 5.
2 Ibid., p. 89.
3 Ibid., p. 97.
4 George Herbert, “Easter II” The County Parson, The Temple
(New York: Paulist Press, 1981), p. 156.