4 April 2021

Rise Up

Speaker: Rev. Don Ludwig

Mark 16:1-8; Theme Video: “Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou

While the priest was presenting a children’s sermon.  He asked the children if they knew what the Resurrection was.  In response to the question, a little boy raised his hand. The priest called on him and the boy said, “I know that if you have a resurrection that lasts more than four hours you are supposed to call the doctor”.  Needless to say, it took ten minutes for the congregation to settle down enough for the service to continue.

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Mark’s Gospel

Mark’s gospel, the earliest one written, ends abruptly—the two Marys visit the empty tomb where Jesus’ crucified body was hastily laid. There are no post resurrection appearances. No one sees Jesus. Jesus gives his disciples no directions or commands other than that they are to go to Galilee—that he has gone on ahead and will meet them there. The women say nothing to anyone. End of story.

The other gospel writers find this abrupt ending intolerable. Matthew has the disciples meeting up with Jesus and worshipping him. Jesus commissions them to go into all the world to baptize and to make disciples. Luke has two of the disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, conferring with a stranger, who later turns out to be Jesus. John has Jesus serving breakfast to the disciples on the lakeshore—and forgiving Peter for his great denial.

But Mark’s story leaves us, standing together in the early dawn, astounded that the tomb is empty. The two Mary’s are left mourning the death of their beloved teacher. They were heart broken. But they were doing what needed to be done. They rose early and bought fragrant herbs and oil to anoint their friend’s body so that his friends could gather around, could sit shiva—to say goodbye. There is only one compelling truth in this version of the story.  Jesus has risen. We too need to rise up.  We need to do what needs to be done.

Jesus has risen.  We need to rise up.

We need to hear this core message of an empty tomb and resurrection these days.  But this story is not about what did or did not happen over 2000 years ago, whether the physical resurrection did or did not happen.  There have been many who have criticized our religion.  Karl Marx accused Christianity of ignoring problems in the real world. Sigmund Freud said that Christianity was simply wishful thinking. Nietzsche said that christianity was for wimps.  And if it wasn’t for the core message of Easter, they would be right.  But Jesus has risen.  We too need to rise up.

Easter is a story that calls us to rise up in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, to do what needs to be done.  The Mary’s needed to rise up.  They did.  We too need to rise up.  Howard Thurman calls Easter the “glad surprise.”   “There is something compelling,” he writes, “about the glad surprise [of Easter].  It is as if a person, stumbling in the darkness, having lost [their] way, finds that the spot at which [they have fallen] is the foot of a stairway that leads from darkness into light.”  Such is the glad surprise.

Jesus has risen. We too need to rise up.  Dr. King said: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”  Just take the first step—perhaps, for us, in this season of the virus—perhaps the first step is to be present to the suffering of the world in this past year and a half—to learn about and do what needs to be done. Whatever that may be. Just like the women in the Gospel story, we rise up to do what needs to be done.

Jesus has risen. We too need to rise up.  Clarence Jordan, one of our twentieth-century Christian saints, founder of the Koinonia farms and instrumental in founding Habitat for Humanity once said, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”  

Rising with Compassion

Jesus has risen. We too need to rise up.  So what do we need in order to rise up?  As individuals? As a church? As a society?  I think there is only one thing we need—compassion. 

That’s the critical thing lacking in the old normal and now our new normal. It isn’t a lack of analysis. We’ve analyzed racism and inequality to death—we’ve analyzed pollution and our carbon footprints till we are blue in the face. We’re using our pronouns and paying attention to accessibility. We’ve got our analysis down.  But without compassion, our analysis is futile.  

Compassion is what we lack. Feeling with. Caring about. Connected to.  Finding meaning in what you can give rather than merely in what you can get.  Compassion. That is where our hope lies this Easter. Compassion is what allows us to rise. Compassion for ourselves and others.

  • That impulse to help our neighbor, to work toward justice for all people, to build and maintain relationships across differences.
  • That landlord who does not turn his back on the poor but collects only partial rent from their tenants believing we are in this together.
  • Those individuals who are buying food for other shoppers in the store and delivering meals to all the kids who can’t eat at school or to the forgotten immobile seniors.
  • Those who open their ears to the cries of the downtrodden in so many ways that do it quietly and with humility.
  • Those who fight against an unjust and corrupt system knowing they face many obstacles.
  • The examples of compassion are all around us—if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Jesus has risen. We too need to rise up with compassion. Take that first step. And discover that staircase.  This Easter does not offer a painless resurrection. We live in a world flooded with crisis after crisis.  Resurrection is never easy. But friends, resurrection is possible because we can choose to rise, we can choose to take that first step—we can choose to lift our vision and shift our direction toward compassion and hope.  We can choose to become a carried-away church.

And so like the women leaving that tomb, long ago—we know that the only choice possible for us—is simply to begin our work. To do what needs to be done, today.  Now.  If we do that, RISE UP TODAY, tomorrow will take care of itself.

So let us begin…let us Rise Up!

A-men.