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April 8, 2012 (Easter Sunday)

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Mark 16:1-8; Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43

“They were afraid.”

Thus ends our Markan gospel text for this Easter Sunday. Indeed, it’s the end of the whole book. Why? “For terror and amazement had seized them.” The women had found the tomb empty – empty !?!? – and a “young man” announced that Jesus “has been raised; he is not here.” The young man then told the women to instruct all disciples that “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Go to Galilee where you will see him.

Back to Galilee. Back to the beginning, where Jesus’ ministry had begun, a ministry of teaching and healing that ended with his crucifixion. But now, here at the end of Mark’s Gospel, we find that the story isn’t over; it’s a loop. Begin again. To understand what’s happened, Mark says to leave the empty tomb, and go back to the beginning where we can experience and immerse ourselves in the gospel again. Again, for we haven’t understood this story fully the first time. Then, with deeper gospel understanding, we see that death is not the end, and our fear fades and distress diminishes.

The gospel good news Jesus lived and taught was foreshadowed in our Hebrew scripture texts for this Easter Sunday. Isaiah exalts Yahweh the Lord for being “a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.” The prophet declares that the Lord will provide “for all peoples a feast of rich food.”

People without adequate shelter and food often experience much fear and distress. A significant part of MCC’s advocacy offices’ work is to witness to government on issues of peace, justice and human dignity that arise out of MCC ministries around the world. This is one central way we live in the resurrection, we “fight fear, fight distress, fight chaos” (with apologies to Canadian Armed Forces recruitment advertising).

Yet there’s more. Isaiah goes on to declare that the Lord will destroy “the shroud that is cast over all peoples … he will swallow up death forever.” As with Jesus’ crucifixion, death is not the end. The Lord God provides a feast-filled life now and a life for which death does not cause fear, for “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” So we “rejoice in his salvation.” Distress and fear are gone!

The Psalmist also gives praise for life that death cannot defeat, and shouts with joy: the Lord’s “steadfast love endures forever!” and leads all in rejoicing in the Lord who has become our salvation. “I shall not die, but I shall live.” This is a Hallel Psalm, the last of six Psalms that as a unit were chanted aloud on joyous occasions as part of morning prayer services.

Then verse 22: “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” While originally referring perhaps to the king who was rejected but then acknowledged to be the rightful ruler, or to the Israelite people in post-exilic times, this was later applied to Jesus, by both Gospel and other New Testament writers. The Psalm ends in a burst of song: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Fear and distress have vanished. Death has been vanquished.

The MCC advocacy offices in Ottawa, Washington DC and at the United Nations witness to government in non-confessional language. Yet at our core is the peace Jesus preached – a peace where all can feast, and fear and suffering are no more. On this Easter Sunday, we accept Mark’s challenge to go back to Galilee, back to beginning. We yearn to understand Jesus more deeply.

By Tim Schmucker, Public Engagement Coordinator, MCC Canada Ottawa Office