- Parish House
Sermon for Easter Day – Mark 16:1-8
The Rev. Dr. Kate Alexander
If you ever want to feel better about yourself, do an online search using the phrase, “You had one job.” You will find a delightful collection of failures, of people messing up a single task. You’ll see photos of a newly paved road with the two freshly painted yellow lines in the middle going right over a giant pile of pine needles. You’ll see several mistakes on signs. My current favorite is a timely banner that was supposed to say “Christ is Risen.” But it’s missing a key letter, so apparently some guy named Chris is risen. Products are another prolific category, like the the superhero water bottle that says Spider Man right under the bat signal. And if you like political satire, you won’t be disappointed by the number of memes of Congress under the header, “You had one job.” Occasionally, you will come across a picture of success, in which someone really nailed their one job with flair. Take, for example, a display of mugs, each sporting one large letter, priced at $6.66. Given the “666” on the price tag, a store clerk took the time to spell out SATAN in mugs. But mostly, the joke is on ordinary folks messing up the job at hand.
While the goofs are funny, let’s face it, our own failure is not so funny. It’s downright uncomfortable. Well, at least until we try to make it useful. We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, right? Notice how quickly we spin failure into a strategy for success, even leadership. If you want to build a company, or grow a church, or reach your dream, you’re supposed to be brave and bold enough to risk failure. Failure as a pep talk for success is much easier to swallow than failure we don’t know what to do with. The truth is, sometimes failure is just failure. And we each carry around a list of our choice mistakes, don’t we? From a harsh word spoken to someone we love, or a temptation we didn’t resist, to our more epic fails with painful consequences. Lucky for us if we can keep our failures off the internet, but they still leave us feeling awful.
So on that chipper note this Easter Sunday, let’s find the failure in today’s passage from Gospel of Mark. You might protest this suggestion, since we have obviously gathered here today to celebrate success, God’s very big success in the resurrection of Jesus. An empty tomb, life overcoming death, that’s about as big as success gets. But if the Easter story is just an account of an amazing supernatural stunt, well, it doesn’t have very much to do with us. That’s why we have to look for the failure, to see how we fit into the story.
And we find it in the message of that strange figure who greets the women at the tomb. We don’t know who it is, maybe it’s Chris from the banner, just some guy in a robe who apparently has been asked to give directions to anyone who comes looking for Jesus. “Do not be alarmed,” he says, “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” The women flee, full of terror and amazement at the message. By the way, that’s the original ending of Mark’s gospel, remarkably brief and unfinished. We’re left only with a promise that the disciples will see Jesus in Galilee.
But did you notice something strange in the young man’s greeting? Isn’t it odd that he told the women to give the message to the disciples and Peter? Peter was a disciple, but for some reason, he was singled out. The ancient Greek adds even more emphasis. The message is actually closer to, “tell his disciples, especially Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you.” Especially Peter. Now we’re getting closer to the failure we’re looking for.
Just two chapters earlier, Jesus told his disciples that they would all desert him. Peter insisted that he, of course, would never do that. Jesus said that he would indeed become a deserter, denying Jesus three times before the cock crowed twice. Dramatically, Peter insisted, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And then, with the full force of a Greek tragedy, by the second crow, Peter had indeed denied knowing Jesus three times. Realizing that the prediction had come true, Peter broke down and wept, devastated. He had one job, to stick it out with Jesus, and he failed. And yet, the very first news of Easter was directed especially to Peter, in all his glorious failure.
Maybe it had to be that way for Peter to really get the message. And for that matter, for us to get the message, too. The message is this: Easter ushered in real forgiveness and restoration, even for, especially for, everyone who fails from time to time. We can tell from the earliest accounts of the risen Christ that a new reality was dawning, a reality in which the disciples came to know the absolute assurance of God’s mercy and indestructible love. From the moment the empty tomb was discovered, any scorecards of sin or mistakes could be tossed, because the news came that God wasn’t keeping score, even for deserters and failures. That included the disciples, especially Peter, and it includes you and me and that guy named Chris. At Easter, this grace announced itself first by the empty tomb, and then through encounters with the risen Lord. When the disciples saw him, he was somehow like Jesus before his death but also strangely new, both concrete and mysterious, like the new reality of an undeniable forgiveness.
In the fifth century, a famous preacher named John Chrysostom explained Easter like this: “Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.” Forgiveness has risen from the grave. That’s where we fit into the story, my friends. Whatever failures you carry around, whatever score cards of hurts inflicted or received that we hold so tightly onto, our forgiveness has risen from the grave. That’s about as big as love gets.
And we have one job. Our job is to receive the gift of that love, to know ourselves and one another as forgiven. And if we mess up that one job from time to time, even as epically as Peter, if we insist on holding tightly onto our tedious tally sheets of failures and wrongs, not to worry. When forgiveness rises from the grave and overcomes death itself, the good news of Easter comes especially to us. Happy Easter!