Putting The Pieces Together
August 6, 2012
Updated March 25, 2022
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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
Sermon by Rev. Richard T. VanderVaart, Wallaceburg, Ontario
Easter is not a once-a-year event. As we read scripture we realize ‘in Christ’ we receive newness of life that unfolds and fills all our living. It is important to consider the significance of Easter throughout the year. In fact, far from the commercials for chocolate Easter Bunnies and ads for Easter clothing sales—in this time of the year it might be easier to hear the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection in a new and fresh way.
There’s a men’s trio called: Phillips, Craig and Dean. They sing: “He’ll Do Whatever It Takes.” Here’s the beginning of the song:
You don’t know just how far away from home I’ve been/
She said as she looked into my eyes/
Could it be I’ve strayed beyond mercy’s outstretched hand/
And now His grace no longer stoops to hear my cry/
You see, I just want to know/Tell me how far will He go/
Will He still reach to me in spite of where I’ve been/
And I told her…/He’ll do whatever, whatever it takes/
His grace reaches lower than your worst mistake/
And His love will run farther than you can run away, my friend/
He’ll do whatever, whatever it takes/ He’ll do whatever it takes
[ Dan Dean©1994 Dawn Treader Music (admin. By EMI Christian Music Pub.)]
All of us carry our own impression of what we expect God to be like. We imagine there are things He will accept, and other things He will not accept. Growing up we’ve witnessed what is taboo and what would drive people from the church. We think there must be sins we can confess and sins that are far beyond the pale. Like the woman in the song, we can sometimes wonder deep in our hearts—have I strayed beyond mercy’s outstretched hand? Jesus’ resurrection shatters our expectations. Jesus’ resurrection enlarges our vision of the work and triumph of Christ. Jesus’ resurrection challenges our narrow view of God and requires us to see and live something larger.
The ladies heading towards Jesus’ tomb were absorbed in their own grief and weighted down with sadness. They’d seen Jesus crucified. They followed the procession that carried Jesus’ body from the cross to the place where Jesus was buried. All their expectations were shattered. As a final act of love they are prepared to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. All their pictures of what the Messiah ‘must be’ have been torn away. Now they are left with their grief. Trudging to the tomb they ask: “How will we get into the tomb to anoint Jesus? Who will roll away the stone?” The cave had been carved out of the hillside and there was a huge stone set in a groove so that could it be rolled back and forth to allow for the burial of others. You get the impression from Mark the women are pretty close and suddenly they realize the stone is already rolled away. Bravely they go right into the cave and look around.
There’s an angel [it’s the white robe that gives him away]. Grief and sadness turn to fear. Not so surprising. Angels are impressive beings. They are sent out to do God’s bidding. In the Gospel of Luke, around the time of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to Zechariah and Mary and the Shepherds. Every time the angel appeared he began by saying: “Do not be afraid.” So, now the two Mary’s and Salome see this angel and they’re afraid. Well, you might wonder will the angel’s words soothe their fears and drive away their alarm? No. In fact, the angel’s words are going to continue to challenge old expectations, shatter old understandings and require the women—and all who follow afterwards—to put the pieces of Jesus’ resurrection together.
In his commentary, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark, David Garland wryly noted the angel assured these three that they were at the right tomb. The angel said: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified.” Yes, they have the right tomb; it’s just that Jesus isn’t here. Garland’s more astute observation is that Mark’s Gospel begins and ends with narration. At Mark 1:1 there is a description of Jesus which is followed by a quotation from Malachi 3: The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each part of that sentence gives important information. Mark will present the beginning, the start of Good News represented by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God, the Gospel will confirm this. Now at the end of the Gospel it is the angel who narrates. Every part of the angel’s speech is important. These words put shattered lives together. The pieces are knit together in a new way so that Jesus’ followers will understand Who He Is.
Mark’s Gospel ends in a strange way. The women fled and didn’t say anything to anyone because they were afraid. The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark do not have the verses 9 – 20. It is likely they were added by a later hand. Somehow verse 8 seems most truthful, doesn’t it? These women watched where Jesus had been entombed. They’d seen His wrapped body enter and the stone rolled against the mouth of the tomb. After the angel spoke they fled and said nothing. Everything has changed. Their old expectations have burst like old wineskins unable to hold the new wine. Mark’s Gospel ends with the descriptions of Jesus, clues, pieces of the puzzle that help us unpack the glory of Jesus’ resurrection. Obviously the women did speak. At some point, perhaps after mulling over the words of the angel, unpacking the various pieces, the women realized they could not keep silent. The disciples received word.
Bringing It Home…
Mark’s Gospel doesn’t wrap it up all nice and neat for us. Women are alarmed and rendered inarticulate by the events of that first Easter. Jesus has once again gone far beyond comfortable expectations of His followers. Jesus’ resurrection still does that today. It is jarring and requires our full attention and thought.
A note to all the “Peters” among us: the resurrection of Jesus Christ is for you. Jesus’ mercy has officially reached lower than your worst mistake; His love outruns your running away. No sin is beyond Jesus’ reach. Turn and repent. Believe that Jesus has done “whatever it takes” to win us back for God.
For those among us who are ready to despise all “Peters” for their sin and betrayals, consider this: Christ has reached out in love—can we do any less? We know of people who have betrayed our trust. We know the trail of pain and sadness left in their wake—yet the message of Jesus’ resurrection is bewildering and rattles our smug pronouncements of the guilt upon others. Jesus’ resurrection requires us to extend forgiveness as freely and as widely as He does. As fully and extravagantly as we are forgiven in Christ, so extravagantly and fully must we forgiven others.
Suggestions for the liturgy:
Call to Worship: Psalm 16
Silent Prayer conclude Hymn # 630 Now Blessed Be the Lord our God
Leader: Let us lift up our hearts.
PEOPLE: We lift them up to the Triune God.
Leader: Lord our God, may Your grace, mercy and peace be ours in overflowing
measure throughout this time of worship. Amen.
Hymn # 146 Praise the Lord! Sing Hallelujah
Call to Confession: Matthew 22:37-40
Unison Prayer of Confession [from the Service of Word and Sacrament, Psalter p. 972]:
Most holy and merciful Father, we confess to you and to one another that we have sinned against you by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not fully loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not always had in us the mind of Christ. You alone know how often we have grieved you by wasting your gifts, by wandering from your ways, by forgetting your love. Forgive us we pray you, most merciful Father and free us from our sin. Renew in us the grace and strength of your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son, our Savior. Amen.
Assurance of God’s Forgiveness: I John 1:8-10
God’s Rule for Thankful Living: Exodus 20:1-17
Rededicating ourselves to God: Hymn # 405 I Serve a Risen Savior
Prayer for Understanding
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
Sermon: “Putting the Pieces Together”
Prayer of Application
Hymn # 478 Tell Out My Soul
Hymn # 627 Bless His Holy Name
Leader: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
PEOPLE: We are sent in the powerful Name of Jesus Christ.
Leader: God of power and love, you promise in the Psalms that you hem us in—behind
and before. Through the course of this coming week, make us aware of your
wonderful presence and may we give you all glory, honor and praise.
Hymn # 400:4 Praise the Savior
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