Life Matters More in The Afterglow of Easter

Posted: April 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

Easter 3B, 2021
Luke 24: 36b-48

Life Matters More in The Afterglow of Easter

As you already know this year the gospel story emphasis is on the storyteller we call Mark.
But if you do just a brief skim of the set gospel readings since Lent, there has only been four of Mark’s stories selected. And it seems there won’t be any more until we move into the season After Pentecost. That’s four stories out of a possible 16! When we wonder why this might be we hear that it is because Mark’s stories don’t add up to much – volume wise. Mark’s gospel is so short that we need to supplement his stories with the stories of others, to fill up the whole year. The problem is that one in four is not a supplement.  It is take-over! And the other is that the importance of Mark is that it is the shortest and thus the one most likely to be the most accurate in its portrayal of the man Jesus. So for me it is important to not give up on Mark’s Easter too soon.

First of all the storyteller we call Mark has the earliest Easter story in the whole of the New Testament. It is thought to have been written close to the time of the Temple destruction so its backdrop would have been all the turmoil of a Jerusalem losing its status as a Hebrew centre and a religious one to boot. For many of Jesus’ followers and this might have been less than 10,000 this was and is really a surprising story. The first surprise is: Mark’s story is so brief.  Eight verses to be exact. If we compare this with the other gospel storytellers: Matthew’s story has 20 verses, John’s story has 56 verses, while Luke’s story has 53 verses. It is amazing because it was so brief when most important stories were much larger.

The second surprise is: Mark does not have any so-called ‘appearance’ stories. This is a very significant g thing to remember when we come to the other gospels. All the appearance stories are found in the other, much later, gospel accounts thus they are likely to be additions and creations of the movement rather than being present at the time of Mark. What Mark does have is the indication that the disciples will see/experience/be aware of, Jesus in Galilee.

And the third surprise is: Mark’s Easter story ends very abruptly. The women fled from the tomb. “They didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone: talk about terrified…” (Mark 16:8 Scholars Version). Such a surprise and puzzling ending was deemed “unsatisfactory as early as the second century, when a longer ending was added to Mark (16:9-20)” (Borg & Crossan 2006:196).

It is on to this story, Mark’s story, that the other storytellers – Matthew and John and Luke – expanded and changed. Indeed; each storyteller has his own collection of different stories. Matthew’s stories are set in the garden and in Galilee. Luke’s stories are centred on Jerusalem combined with a commissioning – our gospel story today. John’s stories combine garden and Jerusalem.

It seems that even given the propensity for interpretation a storyteller did not expect his or her local audience to pick up the other storyteller’s text and ‘fill in the gaps’, so to speak. Neither are all the stories easily reconcilable. Of them perhaps this is all that can be said: “(They) are the product of the experience and reflection of Jesus’ followers in the days, months, years, and decades after his death” (Borg & Crossan 2006:198).

Today in the church calendar is known as Easter 3, we are “still in the shadow, or afterglow, of the resurrection at Easter” (Rick Marshall P&F web site 2006). So, what can we say of all this?  Perhaps these claims.

The first is that Jesus lives and we need to remember here that resurrection is not about an individual return to life. Resurrection in the traditions of the time are universal and mass return oriented. It is a resurrection of all at a future date and time. Here the significance is that Jesus is not among the dead, but among the living. His spirit “was still coursing through their veins” (Patterson 2004:4). We have a timelessness of Jesus similar to that of the Passover meal. The meal is not a remembrance of, not a ceremonial re-enactment but an actual reliving of the history of liberation. Palm Sunday comes in here too and becomes a political social and economic threat. Is it any wonder Pilate felt he had to control the people?

The second is that God has vindicated Jesus. God has said ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the powers who executed him. Stephen Patterson has what could be an important comment here:  He says: “The followers of Jesus did not believe in him because of the resurrection.  They believed in the resurrection because they first believed in him and in the spiritual life he unleashed among them” (Patterson 2004:121). Again the shortness of Mark is important in its omission of the resurrection. True, his death mattered to them.  But only because his life mattered more…

So they began to speak of his death in ways that affirmed his life. And they came to see he stood for something so important he was willing to give his life for it (Patterson 2004:127). Here we have a significant inclusion in who this man is. He is the Messiah Judaism is waiting for and in fact it is God’s realm that was his passion or vision of life. A new life focused not on their plight, not on social and military control and power over but rather something called the empire of God where an alternative approach to life is possible.  And it is significant that Jesus followers were a diverse group of people who came to reaffirm their own commitment to the values and vision stamped into his life
by his words and deeds. They believed that “in his words were God’s words” (Patterson 2004:127).

And we also remember here that Jesus’ vision of a new empire was cultivated by him among them long before he died, It has been proven that no executioner could kill this vision. Likewise, when we believe in this vision of a possible new empire or realm, we too can reaffirm our commitment to the values and vision, and a ‘resurrection’ invitation,
to live life deeply and generously.

We agree to be embraced by life, not scared of it. In all its particularity.  Because life cannot remain visionary! It must be concretely practiced. And for our gospel storyteller this morning, Luke, “to fulfil the hope of the resurrection is to tell the story of Jesus.  That means telling what he did, how he was rejected and then vindicated; and it is at the same time to live it by the power of the same Spirit, by doing good and bringing liberation for all” as William Loader reminds us. (WLoader web site, 2003).

The ‘truth’ of the resurrection stories are not about their historical facuality. Their ‘truth is rooted in the Source of Life we name as God, and which lives on for us and through us and among us, today.

I wonder if we are on the cusp of something today when many churches are facing closure and it seems that what we call religion and Christianity is on the wane and fewer people are joining the church or even coming to what we call worship. To whom do we tell the story of Jesus? Is the way we tell it the way to go? How do we tell it to people who have never heard of it? In this day and age when sacrifice is just life and saviour’s don’t exist and sin is an antiquated concept. How do we as Church people of old become participants rather than spectators remaining on the sidelines?

We still believe that Church places such as this place are important in our religious world so why don’t others recognize this? Church places such as this provide a valuable counterpoint to current and prevailing points of view. So why don’t more people want to share in that.

So, perhaps in the spirit of what Jesus was passionate about, and in the spirit of the wider Easter stories by several storytellers, we might need to again be captivated by the vision of a new world. And this vision seems to have some contextual nuances to it in that the God we envisage is not a God who sits outside of creation and manipulates it. What seems to stand out is that for us today the Jesus story is an invitation into a way of life which was reflected in his own’ own life – in his words and deeds. Before the movement or the church began to grow. Marks time at least where Jesus says that “God is supremely within reach. God or that which we call God is at hand, as Jesus said God’s realm, God’s way, Gods’ world is in our hands “Perhaps this is why God might prefer a good atheist
to a wicked believer” (Benedikt 2007:13). What if the secular and the sacred are the same thing? What is Jesus vision in todays context?

Benedikt, M. 2007. God is the Good we Do. Theology of Theopraxy. New York. Bottino Books.
Borg, M. J. & J. D. Crossan. 2006. The Last Week. A day-by-day account of Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem.The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Funk, R. W. & R. W. Hoover. 1993. . New York. MacMillan Press.
Patterson, S. J. 2004. Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. Minniapolis. Fortress Press.

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