Saturday, 7 April 2012

A talk for Easter day - God's grammar

Mark 16:1-8
This could be an adult talk, but if telling it with children, you will need four sheets of card, with a full stop on one, a question mark, an exclamation mark and an ellipsis on the others. Invite children to stand/sit at front and hold up cards at the right moment. You may also wish to hand out stones or pebbles to people during the talk.
Easter day begins with a full stop (period) .
It really did seem that Good Friday had brought the story of Jesus to an end. Jesus was dead. His body had been taken down from the cross. It had been laid in a tomb, and a large stone had been put in front of the tomb.
I like the story of the homeless man who kept coming to a vicar to ask for money. Each time he told the vicar that he was dying of some incurable disease. Each time the vicar gave him some money. Each time the man miraculously recovered and came back with a request for more money and another incurable disease. Each time he said he was as good as dead, and each time he came back. Well, one day the man did die of an incurable disease – known as walking drunkenly in front of a bus. There was nobody to give instructions, so the undertaker asked the vicar what sort of stone they should put on the grave of the man. The poor vicar replied, ‘I really don’t mind what stone you put over his grave, but I don’t want him coming back. Please make it very very heavy’.
Well the stone put over the grave of Jesus was very heavy. It really was the full stop to the story of Jesus.
All the disciples had hoped for Jesus, all the dreams the people had for Jesus and what he could do for them – they came to a very public and very brutal full stop.
Would the children to hand out these stones? There should be a stone for every person here. I’d like you to hold your stone, and I would like you to imagine that this is your full stop. This is the barrier which you are facing which you know you will never get past. It may be grief, it may be sickness, it may be the constant frustration of your dreams, it may be a besetting sin that you hate and you long to be free of. It may simply be death. This stone is that full stop
But our story in Mark continues with a ?
The women are coming to the tomb. They wish to show their respect to the dead Jesus by anointing his body for burial. There had been no time on Friday, and they had not been able to do anything on the Saturday, because that was the Sabbath. So now on Sunday morning they are coming to the tomb.
And they are asking a question, ‘Who will move the stone?’ They know that the full stop is a full stop. Jesus is dead. All they simply want to do is to move the full stop, just a little, so that they can get closer to the past, closer to the hopes and dreams they once had, closer to the one they had loved.
So often we simply want to move the full stop a little: And so we ask, ‘Who can help us move the full stop a little? Who can help me live my dreams, if only a little? Who can give me if not full life and full love, a little life and a little love? Who can prolong my life here – maybe for 5 years/10 years?’
It is the ? that the women are asking
But they get more than they bargain for.
When they get to the tomb, they find that the stone has already been rolled away. They go into the tomb, and they see a young man dressed in a white robe.
And the ? becomes an !
They are alarmed.
And it becomes scarier. The young man tells them to look around the tomb. ‘Look’, he says, ‘That is where they laid Jesus. He is not here. He has risen. Now go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee. There they will meet him.’
The women were alarmed. Now they are trembling and the word in my bible says bewildered – but it is more than that. It is the word that means deeply deeply agitated. It is the Greek word ‘ekstasis’, from which we get our word ‘ecstasy’. They were out of themselves, blown away. Mark only uses the word on one other occasion, to describe the reaction of Jairus when Jesus brings his daughter back from the dead. And Mark’s gospel almost certainly ends with the words of verse 8: ‘they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid’. And again, the word that Mark uses for afraid is a word that he used to describe the reactions of the disciples when Jesus calmed the storm, when he healed the demon possessed man called Legion and when he walked on water. It is the fear that comes when you know that you are standing in the presence of God.
I quote from RH Lightfoot’s commentary on Mark. “I desire to suggest, in conclusion, that it may be exceptionally difficult for the present generation (and he wrote in 1949) to sympathize with St. Mark's insistence on fear and amazement as the first and inevitable and, up to a point, right result of revelation. One of the most obvious and disturbing phenomena in the religious life … has been the disappearance of the awe or dread or holy fear of God. We of the present older generation are not afraid, as our parents and grandparents always were afraid. It is not a marked feature of religious life today that we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, Philippians 2:12 (it is the same word that Mark uses for the women), or that we offer service well-pleasing to God with godly fear and awe, Hebrews 12:28, or that we order our lives, whilst we live here, in reverent fear, 1 Peter 1:17”.
The women came to anoint a dead Jesus behind a solid full stop. They get far more than they bargained.
And so to my final punctuation.
Mark’s gospel finishes with an !
But if we put the dot of the full stop, and the dot of the question mark and the dot of the exclamation mark together, we get
which, I am told, is an ellipsis. It means that there is so much more to come.
What we thought was a full stop is just the beginning.
The women do tell the disciples. We know that from the other gospels
The disciples do go to Galilee, and they meet Jesus.
And you and I: well look at the stone. Jesus doesn’t remove our stones, but he transforms them. Instead of being full stops, they become openings to something that is new.
The death of our dreams and hopes can be the beginning of a new dream and a new hope: God’s dream and God’s hope for you.
Our own suffering and pain can open up new ways of knowing God and new ways of loving other people.
Our own death becomes the way that we let go of this body of flesh and draw closer to the God who loves us
The death of Jesus means we are forgiven and we can know God.
So take your stone home. Put it on top of the fridge near to the palm cross. Remind yourself that for Jesus the full stop of death was only the beginning of his resurrection to life; that the stone in front of the tomb was rolled away, and that what you think is a full stop is, in fact, just the beginning of an ellipsis, of a new way of life with the risen Lord Jesus.
(This talk is a development of an idea from Barnabas in Churches: http://www.barnabasinchurches.org.uk/easter-presentation-on-easter-through-punctuation-marks/)

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