Easter Sunday Sermon from April 20th, 2014. The text for the sermon was Mark 16:1-8.
Jesus’ Last Breath
Every time you breathe, you breathe in a little bit of Jesus’ last breath. Some of the particles of air that Jesus breathed, you also breathe. Every breath a person takes has so many particles of oxygen and nitrogen and whatever (10,000 times the number of grains of sand on the earth), that when time and air currents spread them out across the world, there are enough that any given lungful of air probably has a couple. So every time we breathe in (can you do that with me?) we take in a few of the same particles that Jesus took in in his dying breath. And so, as we go about our daily lives, breathing in and out on the way to the work, or the grocery store, or the hairdresser, we carry Jesus’ death with us.
To carry Jesus’ death with us, in a sense, is to carry death itself with us. After all, Jesus’ death is not the only one we carry with us. We carry so many other deaths with us too. We may carry the loss of someone who used to bounce us on their knee or the loss of someone who we used to bounce on our knee. We carry the loss of friendships we treasured and dreams that can no longer come to pass. Each of us carries with us a list of heartbreaks, some tiny, some enormous. A set of aches and pains that remind us that some wounds do not heal, some holes cannot be filled, some relationships won’t be mended. On our good days the death that we carry with us is hardly more than a scar, just a reminder of something we survived, and we can even thank God that we loved enough to be hurt, that we treasured something enough to mourn its loss. On other days, death is the only sound we hear, like when you’re in bed waiting to go to sleep, and your own breathing becomes so loud in your ears that you wonder why it doesn’t wake the neighbors.
It was this kind of day that Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome were having when they brought spices to the tomb where Jesus had been laid. Death rung loudly in their ears. They had lost their friend, they had lost their teacher, and they had lost their belief that the world could be saved. He had preached to them that the Kingdom of God was at hand. But where was the Kingdom now?
He had promised the Kingdom. And they had received death. Perhaps this is where we come into the story. I know that as often as not I stand with these women, and I wonder, “Where is the Kingdom now?” War has become both ubiquitous and invisible, a dangerous combination. One in five children in the United States grows up in a family that struggles to put food on the table, the highest number in U.S. history. The numbers are far worse in the third world. The mechanisms that we used to use to solve problems are so poisoned and broken that many of us have simply accepted that our problems cannot be solved. And the church is nowhere to be found, caught up in its own battles, wrapped up in trying to save itself in a world that desperately needs salvation And my great fear, the one that keeps me from sleeping at night, is that it may be my task to bury it.
And on that morning, while it was still dark outside, with death pounding in their ears, three women took spices to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. On the way, they asked each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” The stone had been placed at the entrance of the tomb to seal it. It was big. So big that they knew that they couldn’t to roll it away from the tomb themselves.
But they went anyway. This is what faith is made of. They went out and bought spices and packed them and headed out to the tomb, fully aware that there was a stone in the way that they could not move. They had faith that they would find their way around it. Listen to the question again. “Who will roll away the stone for us?” Not “Will there be someone to roll the stone away?” Not “We might as well not go because we can’t get past that stone anyway.” But “Who will roll away the stone?” The question assumes that the stone will be rolled away. They just didn’t know who would do it. They had a little bit of faith. They didn’t have so much faith that they could see the whole picture. But they had faith enough for today. Faith that even if they didn’t see it, there would be a way to do what they needed to do today. Just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread.” Not bread for life, even though that’s what we really want. But bread for today. Because that is enough.
For the women going to the tomb this little bit of faith was more than enough. When they got there they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. This is what God does for us. Just when we think it’s over, that we’ve found an obstacle we can’t overcome, a problem that has no solution, God opens the way. If we can manage a mustard seed, we will find the mountain moved for us. But that isn’t the end of the story. There’s more. When they got to the tomb they discovered that Jesus’ body was not there. And though they expected to care for him in death, a man there said that he was not dead, but alive!
It’s hard for us to understand how crazy this was. We’ve heard this story a hundred times before. And chances are most of us heard it before we could really understand how impossible it is. But occasionally, we get glimpses, and I want to share with you something that I experienced this week that reconnected me to the wonder and amazement of the story.
It happened in Fun and Worship last week. For the past few weeks we’ve been studying the story of Christ’s last week, from Palm Sunday to Easter. And we’ve been doing it using these little teaching tools called Resurrection Eggs, little plastic Easter eggs. Each time we open an egg, it has a little plastic figure in it that helps us tell a little bit more of the story. And the kids are young, so they are very fixated on the little plastic figures. They all have to touch the crown of thorns, and the nails, and the whip. And this past Monday we got to the last egg, where we tell the story of the empty tomb. And I don’t want to be accused of any sort of slight of hand, and so I say I’m gonna open this up high over my head so we’ll all see it fall out together. And I crack open this little plastic egg, and nothing comes out. And they go nuts.
“WHAAAAAAAAA??!?!??!?!” IT’S EMPTY!!!!!
And I go, “Yeah, huh, why would they give us an egg that’s empty to tell the story.”
“Oh. Oh Oh. Because they went to the tomb to find Jesus body and he wasn’t there because he was alive and they thought he was dead. They thought he was dead but he was alive”
Yes, my man, exactly. And I wish you could have been there to see it, because it’s one thing to talk about the resurrection as a sort of mind-blowing thing, but it’s a completely different thing to watch someone hear the story and have their minds be blown. Because that’s what it is. Mind-blowing. World-shattering, to hear that Death does not have the final word, the final word is God’s alone, and it is a word of Life.
And when you hear this story, or you live it as Mary, Mary and Salome did, or as our kids in Fun and Worship did, you experience it as a tragedy. Judas betrays him, the crowds reject him, the Romans beat him and hang him up on a cross. And it looks like the story is over. But when we get to the closing scene, the tragic funeral of this tragic figure, the body is nowhere to be found. And it changes everything. Everything that has come before and everything that will come to pass is changed by that one moment.
This is the resurrection. That in a world where we carry death with us each and every day. So much so that it’s all we really ever expect, to be confronted with death again and again. And all we can manage is a little bit of faith for today, or maybe none at all. That in this world, where death reigns all round us, there is a power that is greater than death, and it is on our side.
That is what we carry with us when we go out from here. If every time we breathe in we breathe a little bit of Jesus’ last breath, then every time we breathe we take in a little bit of Jesus’ first breath, too. The first breath he took, when he awoke from death in the tomb on that cold morning. That quiet breathing that silenced the sounds of death, ringing all around. As we breathe in and out a little bit of the resurrection passes through us too. We carry life with us, a little bit of God’s breath. It’s the same breath that blew over the waters before the world was formed. It’s the same breath that God breathed into lumps of clay, giving them life and calling them Adam and Eve. It’s same breath that came to the disciples in an Upper Room in Jerusalem, and moved in them to birth the church.
And this breath moves in us, and it mingles with the death that we carry with us. And it over comes the death that we carry with us. It turns our hurts to hope, it turns our fears into faith, it turns our weakness into strength.
When we see obstacles that we think we cannot over come, God gives us exactly what we need. When we think we are at the end of the story, God shows us a new beginning. When we show up prepared for death, God gives us new life. This is God’s promise for us. That when we think the story is over, we will find a new beginning. What ever is broken in us will be made whole. Whatever is dead within us will be restored to life. Whatever we think of this world that is so far gone down the path of death, it will be redeemed.
And so, as you go out today, I invite you to go out living and breathing the resurrection. With faith enough for today, that God’s story is not yet complete. That God has so much more to show us. And that through Christ who is our Savior, the death that we carry around with us is overcome by life.