4-4-21 Easter Sunday — New Beginnings — Isaiah 25: 6-9, Mark 16: 1-8 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Home / 4-4-21 Easter Sunday — New Beginnings — Isaiah 25: 6-9, Mark 16: 1-8 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Isa 25:6-9

Mark 16:1-8

New Beginnings

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

4.4.2021

 

In the epic adventure called “How to Train Your Dragon,” the small Viking village of Berk is periodically besieged by dragons. Dragons of all sorts come and rob sheep but they never eat them. The Vikings never bother to wonder why the dragons come.  They just defend the village and train all their offspring to fight the dragons. Finally, one day Hiccup, the son of Stoic the Vast, the village chief, catches a dragon. At first, he is scared and intrigued by the dragon he catches. He begins feeding the injured dragon and eventually names it Toothless.  As time goes on, Hiccup befriends Toothless and realizes these dragons aren’t monsters; they are merely misunderstood animals and they are actually lovable. Hiccup decides he must help the people of Berk see dragons in a new light.  By the end of the film, Hiccup has convinced the entire village to overcome their fears. Vikings no longer fear the creatures but begin taking care of them and training them, and they overcome their fear and see a new vision for their life. The village Berk becomes a home, where fears are overcome. [1]

Our Isaiah text lays out a beautiful image, but it needs some unpacking. The Prophet is envisioning the future. The Lord has gathered all people on God’s holy mountain. God is serving the very best for the people. It is a right feast with wines and the best food. God then destroys any barrier that we have put up. The text indicates that God will destroy the shroud that is cast over the peoples, and the sheet that is spread over the nations. God will destroy the sheet that have been spread over the nations and God will consume death forever. God will then comfort all people. God will wipe away all tears and remove disgrace from all people.

The prophet saw that the way the nations and the people were living was leading to death. The only thing that was covering them was a “sheet;” this sheet is a reference to how molten metal is poured, especially for making graven images or idols. These idols represented a system of thought that required work, action, and sacrifice. A group would need to imagine in great detail an idol and how it interacted with people and how it interacted with the world. It becomes a system of thought that would have influenced their imagination and stifled their understanding of the world.

The great sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois explored this idea in his work The Soul of Black Folks and saw this “sheet” or “veil” as the work of racial justice and the ending of white supremacy. He went on to predict that this issue would be the dominate issue of the twentieth century and that African Americans would continue to experience adverse relationship to power and resources.[2] This is a system that certainly leads to death; at the time in which these ideas were penned, lynchings were still common community spectacles. For many African Americans it felt like an apocalypse.

Yet, the prophet is insistent that God will destroy this veil, that distortion between neighbors and nations will be corrected. That the relationship between God and humanity will be corrected, and that God will comfort all those in pain.

We move from Isaiah’s vision to right outside the tomb. We are in good company. We are surrounded by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome. The women have come to the tomb to honor the body of Jesus; to cover him in spices and anoint him. They want to ensure that he is buried properly. As they travel to the tomb they wonder how they will move the stone away. To their surprise this heavy stone has been moved, and a man dressed in white is sitting there. They are alarmed by his presence in the tomb. He answers an unasked question. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Go tell his disciples and Peter that Jesus is going to Galilee.” At this news the women flee from the tomb in terror.

At times people have expressed dissatisfaction with this resurrection story. Where is the appearance of Jesus? How can the greatest story ever told end in the women fleeing in terror? This disequilibrium even caused early scribes to add alternative endings to the original text to create a more satisfactory experience.

One of things to keep in mind, is that original hearers would have heard this story in a different setting. It would not have been read as a private devotion or even as a small snippet in worship. Most of the time when they heard this ending, it would have been as it was read to the entire community in one long reading almost as a performance. The story would have been building toward this moment. When I read this story I actually find comfort in the disequilibrium, it feels like a cliffhanger. When you finish a book or a tv series and the characters are all facing a dilemma and the book ends. As the reader you are left to wonder what happens next? Wondering what the characters will do next? How will they cope with the new problem they are facing? Will their fear silence them? What will their next chapter look like?

Much of Mark’s gospel is about overcoming fear with faith. After the calming of the storm, Jesus says to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid?” Jesus says to woman with the blood disease, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” To Jairus, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid but believe.” To the father of the sick boy, Jesus says, “Everything is possible for one who believes,” to which the father replies, “I do believe; help my unbelief”. [3]

At the age of 76, Gertie decided it was time for her to write a new chapter. “She had become concerned about the young people in her church. So, rather than respond with fear she responded with faith, deciding to volunteer at a high school youth group. The pastor asked her what she would like to do. She said, ‘I don’t know; God will think of something.’ Gertie wasn’t a speaker, she couldn’t play games, she didn’t want to lead a bible study. But she had a camera, and she took a picture of every kid in the youth group, and put them on flash cards and wrote down information about them. She would see them at church, youth group, or around town and she would talk to them and pray for them. She memorized all the names and faces and would stand at the door every week and greet every child. Some would run past; others would chat with her. At the age of  86, Gertie had 3 strokes in quick succession. The prospect of her death distressed the kids in the youth group.  After reading the book Tuesdays with Morrie, one of the youth leaders had an idea. He approached Gertie and told her ‘I want to lead your funeral.’ She said, ‘I know and I would like you to, but I’m not dead yet.’ He responded, ‘Yes, but I want to do your funeral while you are alive so you can hear just how much you mean to the kids.’  So, they made plans. Ten years worth of kids showed up one night — the place was packed — and the kids told Gertie how much she meant to them.  At one point a group of kids walked down the aisle, hiding something, Gertie had always loved perfume. The kids poured the perfume over her feet, anointing her and letting her know that she was loved. ”[4]

Gertie wrote a new chapter. Hiccup wrote a new chapter. W.E. B. Dubois saw a new vision and longed for a new chapter. The gospel gives us all the information we need. The angelic messenger tells us that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead. That Jesus is going ahead of us and that Jesus is no longer here. How will we write the next chapter in this story?

 

[1] https://www.dreamworks.com/how-to-train-your-dragon

[2] Joel B Green. Connections: Year B, Volume 2 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (Kindle Locations 5859-5863). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[3] Joel B Green. Connections: Year B, Volume 2 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (Kindle Locations 6439-6441). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[4] Yaconelli, Michael. Messy Spirituality: God’s annoying Love for Imperfect People, pg.  118.